NASA’s Perseverance rover caught its first sampling of rocky Mars material last week after its first attempt in August strangely turned up void. The new rock sample, about the size of a small cigar, checks off a significant first phase in a more extensive decade-long effort to bring humanity’s first Martian samples back to Earth in pristine condition.
The rover’s successful sample snatch happened last Wednesday at 5:36PM ET, diving into a rock researchers nicknamed “Rochette.” Using a hollow, tube-like drill bit that traps rocky material inside, Perseverance bored a hole a few inches using a rotary-percussive drill installed toward the finish of its seven-foot sampling arm. A twisting mechanism inside the drill bit snapped the rock core off of Rochette and kept it cozy inside a sample tube. To affirm it was protected inside, Perseverance moved the five-jointed sampling arm to get the drill bit front of the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera — one of its essential eyes.
Perseverance, a car-sized science lab on wheels, arrived at Mars’ Jezero Crater in February with a core mission to search for old indications of microbial life and gather many samples for a future Mars robot to recover and send back home.
After the rover’s drill bit caught the rock and researchers visually affirmed a successful sampling, the sampling hand gave the rock tube off to one more mechanism inside Perseverance’s main body for processing. Another camera, the Sample Caching System Camera, snaps photographs of the rock samples before it gets connected to an air-tight container.
The air-tight container will be stored in a mini garage in the rover’s underside until it’s the ideal opportunity for Perseverance to plop the sealed tube back on the surface for collection.
Where Perseverance drops the rock samples is still up to be determined. Someday, a future NASA robot will gather the cylinders from their resting places on a surface and launch them into Mars’ orbit, where one more spacecraft worked by the European Space Agency will catch and carry them the rest of the way home for appearance at some point during the 2030s.